Bits of the Buddhist past hum in the background today ....
-- Buddhism has no categorical imperatives -- no immutable God or heaven or hell, no threats or promises couched in some free-standing and much-advertised truth. Buddhism simply provides the groundwork within which people are free to create their own imperatives. The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path are simply your choice and mine. This is true in other spiritual persuasions as well, but more often than not it is kept under wraps ... how could these institutions sustain themselves if everyone exercised a personal responsibility that simply cannot be escaped?
-- Reasonable people who have not yet found their footing will ask of spiritual practice, "Is it worth it?" This is, as I say, a reasonable question. No one wants to get sandbagged. Everyone wants to claim control of their lives ... a reasoned and reasonable control. In the world of reason and self-assuring control, all efforts are to be seen in terms of success and failure. Success means you receive a trophy you can put on the shelf next to the college degree and various other success medals. Sometimes the shelf is in the den. More often it is in the mind: "I tried. I succeeded. I can be proud of myself and, on occasion, strut my stuff."
It is not possible to answer the question "is it worth it?" when it comes to spiritual effort. The question comes from an uncertain and grasping mind and requires a hold-my-hand, agree-with-me answer. It is utterly reasonable and ... utterly juvenile and ridiculous. It cannot be answered, period. Such an answer is unacceptable to an uncertain and grasping mind, so those who are asked, those who seem to be in a position to know, skirt the issue, dance around, write books, give lectures ... and it all sounds pretty good to an uncertain and grasping and reasonable mind.
OK ... the game gets played. It's not naughty or even a very large lie ... even if it is a whopper. It's like a mother humming a lullaby to her drowsy child. There, there, go to sleep, you'll feel refreshed in the morning. Hummmmmm.....hummmmm.... hummmmmmm......
Is it worth it to brush your teeth? Is it worth it to breathe? Is it worth it to eat breakfast? Is it worth it to curl up with a nice book? Is it worth it to be alive? Think of the things we do all the time without a backward glance or any notion of putting them in some trophy case. Is spiritual effort worth it? Sure, but only to idiots. Is spiritual effort a snare and a delusion? Sure, but only to idiots. Or, if you prefer, only to geniuses.
But which would you rather be -- a genius or happy?
If you want to do something, do it. If you don't want to do something, then don't. Since this is what anyone does all the time anyway, there's no particular effort required.
If you go to the store to buy peanut butter, then buy peanut butter.
End of story.